GUEST ARTICLE: Theo and Eboue Must Start

Guest contributor, Greg Schwartz, proposes a radical lineup change as a way to help stop the explosiveness of the Barcelona attack. Whether you agree or disagree, and I have a feeling many of you will disagree, it shows just how ridiculously these two matches are to Arsenal supporters.

So, I write this blog post knowing full well that many of you will disagree with me, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will even agree with myself by the end of it.   That said, here are my thoughts on the Barcelona match.  To win this game, Arsene Wenger must take a risk, and that risk is to start Theo and Eboue down the left side.  I have given this match a lot of thought, probably too much thought, as I have an Organic Chemistry exam directly after the match, but here is what I have come to:

Dani Alves is frightening coming forward.  He runs at defenders in a similar manner to Eboue, and provides a constant threat in the attacking positions with pace and great crossing ability from the right back slot.  That said, he often leaves himself, and the Barcelona backline, exposed with his rampant runs.  He either forgets, or ignores his responsibility to track back.  This leaves an exploitable space down the Arsenal left flank.  In addition to this, Alves provides the bulk of the supply to Messi, and provides him with overlapping runs in order to maintain possession.

In order to limit this attacking threat, my solution would be to start Walcott down the left.  While starting a player like Arshavin gives Arsenal skills and tremendous experience out wide, Walcott brings sheer pace.  He gives a different option and makes himself a relief valve against the pressure of a possession-based attack; which Barcelona seem intent to play against Arsenal.

Starting Walcott up against Alves limits the latter’s ability to go forward by constantly having the threat of Theo peeling away.  Even if Theo’s final ball lacks product, the option of handicapping Alves, makes the decision worth the cost.

Additionally, I was reading a piece in the Daily Mail today by Martin Keown, about what Arsenal can do to beat Barcelona.  In it, he suggests starting a right footed player against the naturally left-footed Messi.  He calls the plan, “sacrificing Clichy;” I see it more as enabling Eboue.  Eboue has played left back before, with moderate success, and I see him as capable of performing his duties intelligently and diligently.  His work rate and defensive prowess would provide more security for Walcott to play higher up the wing, further handicapping Alves.

Further, if Arsene were to start Diaby down the left as well, it creates an intriguing blend of pace, power, as well as the ability to cover the entire field quickly.  I see that as the most effective way to neutralize the threat of Messi and Alves.  Messi and Alves provide much of the attacking threat for Barcelona, with Messi banging in the goals, and Alves providing ten assists this season from the right back slot.

I admit my plan has drawbacks.  Theo is unproven at the top level, and could take away from the efficacy of the front line.  Also, Eboue has been an integral part of the Arsenal front line thus far, and moving him out of position risks minimizing what he offers best.  Continuing in that vein, Clichy’s form right now is remarkable and he deserves the chance to continue playing so well.  I worry with him though, that he will forget his defensive duties as he sometimes does.  In this game in particular, we cannot afford that.

All that said, I think whatever team Wenger goes with, this presents an opportunity for Arsenal to prove their credentials as a truly top team.  After all, Barcelona has shown chinks in their armor, which Arsenal are capable of exploiting.

IT’S NOT OVER YET!

We have to keep the faith. What else can we do? We now sit four points behind United and three behind Chelsea. But should we beat Wolves at the Emirates on Saturday and we get that United-Chelsea draw we’re all dreaming about we will be one point behind Chelsea and only two off the top. Even if Chelsea win, we would still be within a one-match striking distance of the top. It is not over yet.

I can’t bring myself to write much about the match as I still want to scream every time I think about it. And while it may be harsh to fully blame Almunia for the dropped points, I can’t help but wonder why it is that he can be fairly inactive for most of the match and then cock-up the one moment when we need him to just do what any mediocre keeper would be expected to do.

To be fair, it’s amazing that the team has gotten this far in the title race with a keeper like Almunia. A little over two years ago, after taking over from Lehmann, he looked like he might be progressing towards being a true number one keeper. Last year, his performance suffered with the rest of the side. However, the rest of the side broke out of the 2008/09 funk but Almunia never has. He has become even more prone to errors, and costly errors at that, the more he’s played. I don’t think there can be any doubt that Almunia is not a title-winning keeper. But, yesterday was not entirely his fault…

We had chances to put the match away at 1-nil, most notably Arshavin’s opportunity from less than 10 yards out. However, though Arshavin has returned from injury, his shot has not. I can think of 4 or 5 instances off the top of my head where he had clean shots on goal from inside the box and mishit them, and that’s in the last two weeks. To be fair to him, his substitution along with Nasri made a big difference to the match and we weren’t getting shots off or penetrating Brum’s center-backs until they came on. But those chances have to be taken at this time of the season.

The thing that annoys me is when we read these articles in midweek quoting Arshavin as saying stuff like, “Arsenal need more players to win the League.” No we don’t. We need our own players to be able to put a shot on goal and test the keeper from six yards. If Arsenal lose out on the title, it won’t be because we didn’t buy the “3 or 4 experienced players” Arshavin has talked about, it will be because the players we do have didn’t get the job done when they had the chance. If Arshavin had scored, the points would have been secured and we would have remained two points back.

As painful as it is, and I literally mean painful, we have to put this behind us and focus on the Champions League tie with Barcelona on Wednesday evening. Cesc will apparently be struggling to be fit after sustaining a knee injury and you have to wonder why Arsene didn’t just pull him off instead of letting him play for another 50+ minutes on a hurt knee. The ball is out of our court now. And though it looks bleak, in reality, any result besides a United victory next week, puts us right back within striking distance of the top. IT’S NOT OVER YET. And we need to KEEP THE FAITH!

Special Guest Article: EXORCISING DEMONS

Brett Chase is guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He is a fellow NYC Gooner and has been following the club for over ten years. This piece is originally from his own fantastic Arsenal blog, The Modern Gooner.

The date is the 23rd of February, 2008. Arsenal are about to kick-off against top-flight newcomers Birmingham City at St. Andrews. The Gunners, captained by William Gallas, enter the game topping the table and very much the favorites to win the Premier League during the 2007-2008 season.

With Robin van Persie out injured, the Arsenal have seen a nice strike partnership developing between Emmanuel Adebayor (enjoying a brilliant season in which he could hardly miss a chance) and the very much in-form Eduardo, who was bought the previous summer as a replacement for the departed Thierry Henry. It has taken a few months, but Eddie has begun to demonstrate the talents which caught Arsene Wenger’s eye: Pace, determination, a silky first-touch, and a finish as clinical as we Gooners could hope for. Eduardo was the real deal.

The date is the 26th of March, 2010. Arsenal will kick-off tomorrow at St. Andrews for the first time since 2008 tomorrow, and a great deal has changed since then: Gallas was stripped of the captaincy less than a year after the match (his reaction at the late Birmingham equaliser a sign of things to come), replaced by Cesc Fabregas; Adebayor revealed himself to be a money-grabbing whore that summer and was jettisoned to newly-wealthy Man City a year later (he also revealed he was quite capable of missing a chance or 50); players came and players went. Arsenal began to crumble after the 2-2 draw at St. Andrews, and the title challenge fell apart as an injury-riddled and broken Arsenal side finished a disappointing 3rd.

It is the 23rd of February, 2008, and the Birmingham match has just kicked off. Arsenal have begun to play their normal game, controlling possession, passing the ball and making the Brummies chase around, when Eduardo took the ball headed for the Birmingham box. Defender Martin Taylor, whose name will become infamous to Gooners everywhere, slides in with a high, studs-up challenge that breaks Eduardo’s leg in two near the ankle, the kind of horror tackle a particularly angry fan might say they hope happens to a rival player, but don’t actually mean. Taylor is sent off, but 10-man Birmingham City take a lead into halftime. Theo Walcott scores twice in what should be enough to salvage a win for the despondent Gunners, but a dubious penalty is called on Gael Clichy late on, allowing Birmingham to claw back a point. Arsenal’s title challenge begins to unravel.

It is the 26th of March, 2010. Eduardo has now been back for a year, but despite showing flashes of brilliance, his finish, his touch, his confidence but most of all his willingness to play with abandon seem to have, perhaps understandably, deserted him. Arsenal are scrapping in a real title challenge for the first time this late on in a season since 2007-2008, and we have seen another promising young player, Aaron Ramsey, cut down by a reckless and violent tackle at another away match in February. This time, however, the Arsenal have responded with visibly greater unity and (Arsene’s favorite term) mental strength.

I’m inclined to attribute this change to the leadership in the team. Fabregas, thrust further into the spotlight last season after taking the armband from Gallas, was not initially seen as “natural leader.” While he is not perhaps a vocal leader in the Adams/Vieira mold, Cesc has proven an invaluable resource in leading by example, and his fierce desire to win and his team spirit seem to permeate the team. Add to this the experience of Sol Campbell, pressed into service due to an injury to Gallas (to be fair, a consummate professional despite losing the armband) and fiery play of Thomas Vermaelen and the emergence of a number of other key players, and we have seen Arsenal rise from the ashes of what looked, at several points, like a lost season.

It is the 8th of March, 2009. Eduardo provides a spectacular finish and his return to Arsenal from a horrific injury at Birmingham looks nearly complete.

It is the 26th of August, 2009. Eduardo has drawn a penalty, despite, on second look, getting minimal if any contact with the Celtic ‘keeper (and renowned madman) Artur Boruc. Eduardo will be hounded for weeks, and Celtic will unsuccessfully attempt to convince UEFA to ban Eduardo for several matches after the fact, despite the fact that Arsenal win the match 3-1 and the tie 5-1 on aggregate.

It is the 26th of March, 2010. Nicklas Bendtner has revealed that he may not be fit for Arsenal’s first trip to St. Andrews since what has become known as “the Eduardo game.” With Arsenal down to bare-bones at striker, the much-maligned Number 9 is even more of a focal point with the Gunners needing every possible point to keep title hopes alive among Manchester United and Chelsea. Eddie has had a disappointing season, with many fans suggesting that his days in North London are numbered. The influential Vermaelen being suspended, there are questions asked in defense and in midfield as well.

It is the 27th of March, 2010…

COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!